Russian Hybrid Warfare: definitions, capabilities, scope and possible responses

Russia's new hybrid warfare has become a central safety concern for the entire Europe. The project, funded by the Finnish Government, strives to tackle the challenges and threats this new situation poses. It will produce new information on Russia's strategic thinking and various ways of entering into hybrid warfare.

Project researchers:  

Dr. Bettina Renz and Dr. Hanna Smith

Duration:   1.9.2015-30.8.2016
Funding:   Prime Minister’s Office’s research funding mechanism


Final report and its background papers

The final report (published on October 27, 2016): After 'hybrid warfare', what next? – Undestanding and responding to contemporary Russia

Background papers for report: After 'hybrid warfare', what next? - Understanding and responding to contemporary Russia (pdf)

Project events

22.4.2016 Breakfast briefing for the media and publishing event for Russia and Hybrid Warfare - Going beyond the Label (Aleksanteri Papers 1/2016).

6.11.2015 Seminar Russian Hybrid Warfare: definitions, capabilities, scope and possible responses

The ‘Russian Hybrid Warfare’ project’s first workshop and public seminar involving its international panel of experts took place in Helsinki from 3rd – 6th November 2015. The composition of the expert group is intended to fulfil a central objective of the project: bringing together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and analysts specialising in both Russian area studies and contemporary strategic thought from different countries in order to avoid one-sided conclusions and approaches to the subject. In addition to the project leaders, Dr. Hanna Smith and Dr. Bettina Renz, the group of experts includes Dr. Tor Bukkvoll (Norwegian Defence Research Establishment); Professor Antulio Echevarria (US Army War College); Dr. Keir Giles (Conflict Studies Research Centre / Chatham House); Dr. Sibylle Scheipers (University of St Andrews) and Dr. Rod Thornton (King’s College London).

The first meeting of the group was devoted in its entirety to the discussion of the ‘hybrid warfare’ label and its utility and shortcomings in explaining Russian conduct, capabilities and intentions in Ukraine and beyond. There was much agreement amongst the group that, whilst clearly there was much that is ‘new’ in Russian approaches and tactics used to annex Crimea and destabilise East Ukraine, the ‘hybrid warfare’ concept is too vague and its uncritical application obscures more than it can explain. Particularly problematic are the concept’s implication that Russia found a ‘new way of war’ or ‘hybrid warfare doctrine’ that can be easily replicated elsewhere; the difficulties in distinguishing ‘hybrid warfare’ from aggressive foreign policy; and the tendency to mistakenly equate ‘hybrid warfare’ with a strategy at the expense of studying, in depth, Russian foreign policy or ‘grand strategic’ goals.

The meetings ended with a public seminar held at the University of Helsinki on Friday, 6th November, which was very well attended. In line with the project’s aim of establishing an in-depth and complex analysis of the subject, individual members of the expert group presented papers on numerous subjects related to Russian ‘hybrid warfare’ in line with their respective area of expertise. The first panel dealt with broad definitional issues in order to place the subject within contemporary debates on war and strategy. Dr. Renz highlighted some central definitional problems pertaining to the ‘hybrid warfare’ label; Professor Echevarria discussed the concept with reference to Western military strategy; and Dr. Rod Thornton assessed Russian ‘hybrid warfare’ in the framework of existing debates on asymmetric warfare approaches (pdf).

The second panel of the morning discussed three important aspects of ‘hybrid warfare’ specifically with reference to Russia and its conduct in Crimea and East Ukraine. Dr. Tor Bukkvoll presented an in-depth analysis of Russian special forces operations capabilities (pdf); Dr. Keir Giles discussed the scope and implications of Russian information warfare approaches and Dr. Hanna Smith concluded the session with an analysis of Russian strategic thinking and strategy-making (pdf). The next meeting in Helsinki with the project’s expert group will be held in May 2016 and will also include a public seminar. Further information on related events will follow.

Project in the media

Suomen Kuvalehti 26.4.2016: Kaikki mitä Venäjä tekee ei ole hybridisotaa – sodan ja rauhan määrittely haastaa myös tutkijat

Uusi Suomi 22.4.2016: Käykö Venäjä hybridisotaa Suomea vastaan? Tässä tuoreet tulkinnat

Helsingin Sanomat 22.4.2016: Raportti: Hybridisodasta tullut muotikäsite, joka ei auta varautumaan Venäjän uhkaan

Bettina Renzin blogikirjoitus 8.2.2016: Hybridisota lännen heikkous, ei Venäjän vahvuus

Helsingin Sanomat 8.11.2015: Venäjä nuuskii nyt lännen tietoliikennettä

Iltalehti 6.11.2015: Asiantuntijat Venäjän "hybridisodasta": Valheen kertominen on helppoa

Turun Sanomat 6.11.2015: Vaikeasti määriteltävä hybridisota sai lisävauhtia teknologiasta

MTV Internet 6.11.2015: Tutkijat: Venäjä yrittää kääntää lännen vahvuudet heikkoudeksi

Helsingin yliopisto 6.11.2015: Hybridisodankäynnissä on jotain uutta, jotain vanhaa

Previous publications relevant to the project

Russia and Hybrid Warfare - Going beyond the Label (Aleksanteri Papers 1/2016).

Russian Analytical Digest (RAD) 2015, No. 173: Russia and Regime Security

Antulio J. Echevarria (2015): How Should We Think about “Gray-Zone” Wars? In: Infinity Journal, Vol. 5, Issue 1.

Tor Bukkvoll (2015): Military Innovation Under Authoritarian Government – the Case of Russian Special Operations Forces. In: Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 38, Issue 5.

Keir Giles (2015): Russia's Hybrid Warfare: A Success in Propaganda. In: Federal Academy for Security Policy, Working Paper, No. 1/2015.

Polina Sinovets & Bettina Renz (2015): Russia's 2014 Military Doctrine and beyond: threat perceptions, capabilities and ambitions. In: NATO Defense College Research Paper, No. 117.

Bettina Renz (2014): Russian Military Capabilities after 20 Years of Reform. In: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, Vol. 56, Issue 3.

Tor Bukkvoll (2011): Iron Cannot Fight – The Role of Technology in Current Russian Military Theory. In: Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 34, Issue 5.